Respectful but Never Fearful
by
Laura Hicks

Not too long ago a good friend of mine, Leland Paxton, was killed in a ranching accident.  He was a true stockman who thoroughly enjoyed the study of animal communication.  He loved the silent but clear communication that went on between dogs and stock.  He worked hard to emulate that language in his own training of all animal’s.

Leland’s favorite saying (which I believe came from Ray Hunt) was “Respectful but never fearful”.  I often refer back to this quote when I’m contemplating my own feelings on training dogs and horses.  Leland always reminded me that the best example of this saying in action was when watching a truly great cow dog handling cattle.  Dogs that do nothing more than instill fear in cattle will never find that calmness that comes when they are respectful.

Fear itself often leads to confusion and panic.  How can we honestly expect another being (canine, bovine, equine or even mankind) to be able to learn and perform at their best when they’re filled with confusion and panic?

Most of us know that if we get a dog or horse too hot, either physically or mentally, their mind truly shuts down.  Fear essentially does the same thing.  Imagine yourself constantly filled with dread and think about how well you could perform.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t expect there won’t ever be a correction for wrong choices.  Respect comes hand in hand with fairness.  When training my dogs, horses or even my kids, I work really hard at letting them be right and correcting them when they’re wrong.  Okay, I’m sure most of you are thinking, “Well, duh woman, that’s pretty simple”.  I agree, but the respect comes in when our corrections are in a timely manner, so they know exactly what it was they’ve done wrong.  This helps get rid of any confusion.

We also need to make sure the “punishment fits the crime”.  Bruce Fogt’s book, Lessons from a Stock Dog, describes the ladder of corrections in great detail and is beneficial to most aspects of life.  The point is in making the least possible correction that will get the desired result.

When my kids make a mistake that’s purely accidental and in no way dangerous, I can’t imagine doing anymore than pointing it out to them in hopes they’ll learn from it.  On the other hand, if they have done something intentionally that they knew was wrong and potentially dangerous, there would be a more severe correction to go along with it.

My husband is a man of few words and tons of patience.  My kids respect him very much as they know they’ll never be unjustly punished and it will always fit the “crime”.  They don’t run around in fear and confusion thanks to this fact.  They know exactly where the line is with him and if they cross it there will be consequences.  Their choice!

That is the same way I try to train my dogs and in turn expect them to train the stock we’re working.  Leland told me once that you can tell an awful lot about a person by the way their stock handles.  I’ve seen this to be true time and time again.

Leland and I were at a trial not too long before his accident where Leland had supplied the cattle.  It was evident to most, if not all, in attendance that these cattle had been taught to be “Respectful but never fearful”.  What a great display of dog work we got to see that day!

A simple way to view this is that respectfulness comes from respect.  Because Leland had a great deal of respect for the animals he was working, it was easy for them to sense that.

One of Leland’s training philosophies goes hand in hand with what we’ve been talking about.  He had a method that he always tried to follow in training - ask, tell, and promise.  First we must show the dog what it is we want.  A dog doesn’t generally come out of the womb knowing its directions.  We must first show them.  So we “show” them through repetition what is wanted.  Then we ask them to perform a desired task.  Once we’re sure they know what is expected, we promise to follow through with consequences for the choices they make, good or bad.

On occasion our dogs think they know better than us (they really do a big part of the time) and this is where the promise part comes into play.  The dog was told what it needed to do to accomplish the task at hand and it chose to disobey.  Consequences then follow so the dog understands that it wasn’t a request anymore.  Leland was a BIG believer in not micro-managing his dogs.  He knew full well that they could read livestock better than most humans.  He most often deferred to their judgment whenever possible.  But, if he had ASKED, then TOLD, he PROMISED it would be done.

Leland Paxton was a philosopher, stockman, trainer, and constant student of the world around him.  I am grateful for the lessons he taught and the many lives he touched.  Leland, you truly were one of a kind and will NEVER be forgotten!